Underbelly

In this short post, I want to ask, Who are we forgetting? Who are we leaving out?

In the ongoing journey for equality and civil rights for all, often times we forget about the underbelly of society (underbelly meaning hidden or vulnerable).

I currently work at a non-profit that works with active drug users and sex workers. A population that society has forgotten. A population that my organization seeks to include in conversations relating to policy and health. We constantly search each day for methods to better the lives of this group and to make them feel included within society. We work with those who are transgender and seek to protect their best interests with their help and input.

At our monthly trans support group last month, one transwoman remarked how she never leaves home without her long metal chain. It’s the only way she’s feels protected and it’s the only way she can guarantee her safety. Another transwoman from the group mentioned how often she has faced discrimination in searching and keeping jobs.

I live a bustling metropolis that prides itself on its open-mindedness and liberalness. How do we still have people feeling unsafe and unwelcome here? How do we do nothing to include them in conversations regarding their problems and safety? For such an open minded city, we close our ears to those in our midst whose voices need to be heard more than ours.

And so it is within the modern Mormon feminist movement. At least in my eyes.

We have made great strides in our community in making Mormonism more vast and egalitarian. We pride ourselves on being more open to change than the traditional orthodox LDS Church members. We’re ahead of the curve.

Yet….

When we talk about feminism, are we including transwomen into our conversations?

When we talk about equality (within and outside of the Church), why do we often forget our sisters of color?

When we talk about defending ourselves from the patriarchy, do we also include those who are gay, lesbian, or queer?

Courtesy of mormonfeminist.org

I still read and hear stories of Mormon women of color who still feel left out of the conversation (myself included). It is painfully obvious that there are few voices in our movement from those who are LGBTQ. And is there even a space for those  among us who are transwomen? Just because the numbers are small, doesn’t mean their voices shouldn’t be heard or included.

So, who are we forgetting? And how can we remember them?

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Digging Deeper: The Future of Mormon Feminism Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Waking Up

I vividly remember an experience with my youngest daughter who was around four-years-old at the time. I was using public transportation to get to and from campus where Sara attended preschool while I attended classes. A younger mother on the bus held her baby. The baby’s complexion was dramatically darker than his mom’s. She nuzzled her child, talked baby talk, and saturated that baby with maternal love. Sara looked at the scene then back at me several times with a quizzical expression on her face. She wrinkled her brow and looked at me again. I said, “Are you wondering about the baby’s skin color?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, the mommy is white and the baby is black. The baby’s dad is probably black.” Sara’s expression changed only slightly before she shifted the conversation in an unexpected direction and slammed my white, Utah Mormon brain up against a wall of generational prejudice. She said, “No! The mom’s skin is pink and the baby’s skin is brown.”

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Digging Deeper: The Future of Mormon Feminism Part 1

Part one of two posts.

 

 Introduction

Maybe you won’t identify with this story. Maybe by the grace of God you escaped the curse of cultural or racial prejudice that affects both a person of privilege and a victim of racism. Maybe you were raised in an egalitarian environment and are truly free from such burdens. If so, you are among the lucky ones.

Others may find commonality with the thoughts and experiences I’ll share, especially women who grew up in Caucasian communities. And who, by osmosis, inherited cultural and racial biases from home, school, and church life. I see racism as a disease in America and I hope others will agree that by extension, racism is a part of the mainstream North American LDS communities where many of us live. (Perhaps some of our sisters abroad will share their experiences from elsewhere around the world in the comments below.)

I could try telling stories here about some of my sisters of color, but I don’t really know their stories well enough. Besides, they can do that for themselves. We would do well to seek out our sisters and listen carefully to their words.

My job is to tell my own story with as much accuracy and integrity as possible. So, I’ll start there, hoping it will lead to an increased awareness of how some of us can reach toward greater inclusion of all our culturally diverse sisters in conversations and as friends in our day-to-day lives. I feel moved to invite white sisters to actively acknowledge and champion the concerns and causes of Mormons of color as our own (feminist or not) or, I fear, we will ultimately fail in our mission as Mormon feminists.

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Nachos and Green Tomato Salsa

canning jarsMy husband is getting ready to attend a play with friends. I am happy to stay home and putter, but he hesitates with keys in hand, looking around the kitchen with a concerned expression. “I may not be home in time for dinner.” One of the many perks of our empty nest is that occasionally I find myself blissfully alone. “I know. I will be fine.” He opens the fridge. “There may be some leftovers.” “I told you, I will figure something out.” He says, “You ate all the Wheat Chex last week.” Now I am annoyed. “Go! I will cook for myself.” He snorts and leaves. I go off and hermit around my workspace until hunger drives me back to the kitchen. I peer in the refrigerator, the freezer, the pantry, the refrigerator again.

My husband is truly gifted at cooking. I am not. This was established early in the relationship. On our first date he made a picnic lunch with teriyaki pheasant. A few dates later I burned a chicken concoction and we went out for pizza. In the first year of our marriage we attempted to trade off, but when my husband started graduate school, he took over. He said he wanted a “creative outlet.” We were both relieved.

It is hard to know what came first – my profound lack of aptitude or my subsequent lack of interest. One usually follows the other. For years I have sat on a stool at the edge of the kitchen island, watching my husband intently, trying to figure out the difference between us. We are both smart. We both love to eat. Perched there, eating scraps of food out of prep bowls, I have discovered clues. My brain thinks in geometric lines, taking apart and putting things back together in a linear process. If the points are not perfect in my quilt blocks, I remake them until they line up. I think: what is the most efficient way to go from point A to point B? What are the steps to achieve a specific result? My husband’s brain thinks like a lava lamp, organic, he perceives a million details at the same time. He chops and stirs and sautes this and roasts that. He senses temperature and color and somehow five dishes appear at the same time. If something doesn’t taste right he adapts the other ingredients to balance. He thinks: what flavors go together? What recipe fits the weather?  

Today I decide to make myself nachos. I find chips, pre-shredded cheese and an old piece of steak which I chop up and layer on the top. I turn on the broiler and can hear my husband’s voice in my head telling me not to burn them. In fact, why not use the microwave?

Our children grew up in a home where Dad was master of the kitchen, not just cooking, but preparing gourmet meals that people came to rave about. Dinner at our house was a culinary adventure and we loved entertaining as a family. I tried to feel that my contribution was bringing home the bacon rather than frying it up in a pan, but the referenced woman in the commercial could do both and look sexy. I worried that my lack of domestic proficiency diminished my value as a wife and mother. One Mother’s Day this was reinforced when the boys came home from Primary presenting a project they had made in class. It was constructed of two paper wheels held together by a brad. The top wheel had a window revealing tiny messages and pictures underneath. The title read: “My mother does many things for me!” and when the child turned the wheel, the captions below read “She bakes cookies!” “She makes dinner!” “She washes my clothes!” “ She meets me after school!” To which my little son gleefully confessed, “I told them that my mom doesn’t do any of those things!” My older son shook his head thoughtfully. “No, no she doesn’t.”  

I also faced incredulous clucking from other women assuring me of my “luck” in finding a man who would “help out” and cautioning that I had better “hang on to him” as if my inability to time an egg threatened our long term prospects. At first I would defensively explain that it all evened out, that he had a surly disposition and I cleaned the toilet. Eventually I just surrendered and shrugged. I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.

I don’t burn my nachos but they look boring so I dig through a pile of jars created from my husband’s new hobby, small batch canning. I find something green and chopped and open it. It smells like salsa. I taste it. The hacienda heavens open and choirs of mariachi angels sing. It is delicious. I dump it all over my nachos and devour them.

In his book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon shares that most parents love their children at birth, but must learn over time to accept them. He says that “love aspires to acceptance” and that most parenting happens in the grey area between what we try to change in those we love and what we choose to celebrate as it unfolds. I believe this applies to how we view ourselves as well. Learning when to develop and push ourselves and when to simply be ourselves is an ongoing challenge. There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am. My children may appreciate a mother who can make sock monkeys dressed as literary characters just as much as a mother who knows that Honey Nut corn flakes and strawberry yogurt should not be used to bread chicken nuggets. In the words of the very wise Queen Elsa, I am going to let it go.

Later that night, when my husband comes home, he asks what I ate for dinner. I tell him nachos which actually required use of the oven. Then I say, “So that green stuff I found in the pantry? It is amazing. I ate the whole jar.” He lights up. “It is green tomato salsa. The neighbor brought us all these green tomatoes and I made up the recipe in order to use them.” I assure him that it was the best salsa I have ever tasted. And that I never take his gifts for granted. He wonders if he will be able to replicate the recipe again. I say, “I am sure you will come up with something.”

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“There is Room for You” / “Il y a une place pour vous”

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

This was the theme of the regional YSA conference here in the northeast. Hosted in New York City, it was a two-day conference, however I was only able to attend the Sunday session, which is just as well.

While the Sacrament meeting service was lackluster and disappointing, the evening fireside (presented by the always fabulous, Sistas in Zion) was spectacular and uplifting.  They talked extensively on the conference’s theme and reiterated how “there is room for you”.

Unsurprisingly, as a feminist young single black Mormon convert from New York, the number of times I felt that there hasn’t been room for me is too many to count. Even now, I recently made the decision to stop attending church services on a regular basis. However, my testimony of the Gospel is still strong. I read the Book of Mormon, I pray when I feel inspired or prompted, I believe in the Plan of Happiness, etc. I can even believe the idea that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri! It is my testimony of the Church that is weak and failing (that is a post for another time).

So… is there room for me? For us?

President Uchtdorf says there is. In his October General Conference address, he speaks, “If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”

I’d still like to think that when I am ready to return, there will be room for me. If not, I’ll make room. I know it’s there. I just have to find it and carve it out. There wasn’t room for Christ while he went about His ministry–– He was rejected and despised and considered a radical. But nonetheless, He went about His Father’s business and He made room. And his disciples  and friends followed and supported Him, while gaining new supporters and friends. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Mary at the inn, but that didn’t stop the Savior from being born! Mary made room for Him! Now, not only is there room for Christ, there are mansions dedicated to His name! And He tells us today there is room for us. And I believe it.

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Christ in any way shape or form. Nor am I about to start my own denomination in the name of making room. I’m simply noting the example He sets in creating a place for those who felt there was no place for them before. And His story proves that there are always friends to be found and be there for you. And that they will hold your place in the room for when you return.

IMG_3901

That’s what I’m hoping for. As I take this much needed step away from the institutional Church, I am counting on dear friends to save a seat for me. I am counting on friends to tell me they are there for me on my journey. If there is to be room, not only I, but others must make room as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. For many, once they leave, others shut the door and claim the seat they once had is gone. Nothing is farther from the truth. I echo the theme of the regional conference and of President Uchtdorf: There is room for you.

Regardless of whether or not you return, there is room for you. Either in the church building or in the hearts of your fellow Saints. At the very least, there is room for you with me.

 

“Il y a une place pour vous”

Voilà le thème de la conférence régionale des JA du nord-est des Etats-Unis qui a eu lieu à New York City pendant deux jours. Je n’ai assisté qu’à la session du dimanche.

Même si le service de Sainte-Cène a été décevant, le coin de feu de la soirée (présenté par le groupe Sistas in Zion) était spectaculaire et édifiant. On a beaucoup parlé du thème en insistant qu’il y a bien « une place pour vous. »

En tant que convertie jeune, célibataire, féministe et noire, je ne peux pas compter le nombre de fois où j’ai senti qu’il n’y avait aucune place pour moi. Récemment, j’ai décidé d’arrêter de venir à l’Eglise régulièrement. J’ai pourtant un témoignage fort de l’Evangile. Je lis le Livre de Mormon, je prie quand je me sens inspirée, je crois au Plan de Salut. J’arrive même à croire que le Jardin d’Eden se trouvait en Missouri ! Mais j’ai aussi un témoignage que l’Eglise est faible et est en train d’échouer (ce qui est tout un billet pour un autre moment).

Alors…y a-t-il une place pour moi? Pour nous ?

Président Uchtdorf dit que oui. Dans son discours de la conférence générale d’octobre 2013, il dit, « Si c’est ce que vous désirez, alors, quelles que soient votre situation, votre histoire personnelle ou la force de votre témoignage, il y a de la place pour vous dans l’Église. Venez nous rejoindre ! »

J’aimerais croire que quand je serai prête à revenir, il y aura une place pour moi. Sinon j’en créerai une. Je sais qu’elle est là, je dois la trouver. Il n’y avait pas de place pour le Christ : on l’a rejeté et l’a haï et l’a traité de radical. Mais malgré tout il faisait l’œuvre de son Père et il faisait de la place pour lui. Et ses disciples et ses amis le suivaient, ce qui attirait d’autres disciples et amis. Il n’y avait même pas de place pour Marie à l’auberge, mais cela n’a pas empêché au Christ de venir au monde. Marie a fait une place pour lui. Maintenant, non seulement il y a de la place pour le Christ, il y a même des châteaux dédiés à son nom! Il nous dit qu’il y a une place pour nous, et je le crois.

Je ne me compare pas du tout au Christ. Je ne vais pas non plus créer ma propre réligion. Je note l’exemple qu’il nous donne de créer une place pour ceux qui n’en avaient pas une avant. Son histoire prouve qu’il y aura toujours des amis à trouver, et qu’il garderont votre place pour quand vous reviendrez.

Voilà ce que j’espère. Pendant cette pause de l’Eglise institutionnelle, je compte sur mes amis de garder une place pour moi. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le cas pour tout le monde. Pour beaucoup d’entre nous, une fois partis, d’autres ferment la porte sur eux et prennent la place que nous avons quittée. Rien ne peut être plus loin de la vérité. Comme le dit Président Uchtdorf : il y a de la place pour vous, qu’elle soit dans l’Eglise ou dans les cœurs des saints. Au moins, il y a de la place pour vous avec moi.

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